Obama faces a new Republican Trump card

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The Independent US

Donald Trump, the property developer and reality TV powerhouse who insists he may run for the Republican nomination for the White House next year, is on a roll. Polls now put him in second place in the race to secure the Republican nomination and not even his local paper, which yesterday Photoshopped him to look like a dozy clown, can slow his momentum.

Dismissing "the Donald" as a possible contender has become more difficult even if he seems preoccupied almost exclusively by the so-called "birther" conspiracy that says President Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii, as he claims. A recent Wall Street Journal poll of possible Republican runners showed him tied in second place with Mike Huckabee and only four points behind Mitt Romney.

Last night Mr Romney formally signalled his intention to run by forming an exploratory committee, a body to raise campaign funds. He is the second Republican to do so, following former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

But the White House is now training its guns on Trump. "I saw Donald Trump kind of rising in the polls. Given the spectacle of the last couple of weeks, I hope he keeps on rising," David Plouffe, Mr Obama's senior political adviser, sniped. "There's zero chance that Donald Trump would ever be hired by the American people to do this job."

The tycoon has also got the attention of The New York Times, which saw fit to publish a letter in which he attacks its star columnist, Gail Collins, for lambasting him over the birth certificate issue. "I have great respect for Ms Collins in that she has survived so long with so little talent," he hisses. "Her storytelling ability and word usage (coming from me, who has written many bestsellers), is not at a very high level. More importantly, her facts are wrong."

In recent interviews, Mr Trump has suggested that Mr Obama may have pulled of the "greatest scam" in US history by pretending to be an American when he is not. Speaking on CNN at the weekend, Mr Trump claimed that Mr Obama's grandparents had placed an advert in a Hawaii newspaper saying that he had been born in the US "for hospitalisation, for welfare, for this, for that, for all of the other assets you get from being a US citizen".

The producer and puppet master of contestants on his Apprentice programmes also points to a tape recording in which Mr Obama's grandmother says she witnessed his birth in Kenya. However, researchers say she misunderstood the question and quickly corrects her mistake. He also makes much of the fact that, while Mr Obama has a so-called "certificate of live birth" that identifies the Hawaii hospital in which he was born, he has never produced a more formal birth certificate. That families would have the former and not the latter in Hawaii is far from unusual, however.

Among those taking issue with Mr Trump is factcheck.org. "If Donald Trump worked for us, we'd have to say: 'Donald, you're fired – for incompetence.' When it comes to getting facts straight, he fouls up again and again. As a rookie reporter, he wouldn't make it."

That Mr Trump is being taken seriously at all might say less about him and more about the field of possible challengers to Mr Obama, which has been very slow to form and is not firing grassroots enthusiasm.